New experiences can be key to getting creativity flowing and launching new projects. The National Park Service Artist in Residence Program can be the perfect opportunity to draw inspiration from the unique landscapes that the agency protects. With diverse animal and plant life, along with access to knowledgeable park rangers and staff, artists are sure to discover new perspectives as they interact with the parks’ vast acreage. They include locations in parks, seashores, lakeshores, historic sites, and battlefields. Each year’s residency offerings differ, with options for photographers, painters, writers, composers and more, depending on each park’s needs. Here are five of the most intriguing residencies.
Craters of the Moon Monument & Preserve Artist in Residence
The Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve Artist in Residence in Southern Idaho offers a truly unique landscape for a variety of artists. The dark rocky terrain originally created by a volcanic eruption 2,000 years ago is pocked with caves and unusual rock structures, creating a distinct contrast between Idaho’s typically bright blue skies. At night, the artist in residence can take in stars and the Milky Way thanks to lack of light pollution and the park’s 2017 designation as an International Dark Sky Park. With enough moonlight, light reflects off the landscape to produce an other-worldly experience. True to its name, in 1969, NASA astronauts explored the monument as part of their training to visit the moon. Despite the extreme landscape, many desert animals live in the park. During the day, one can see mule deer, coyotes, porcupines, rabbits, and birds, and during the night, a variety of nocturnal animals including foxes, bobcats, mountain lions, bats, and owls can be spotted. Since 2010, painters, essayists, drawers, architects, poets, and crafters have found inspiration from their time as the artist in residence.
Residencies usually run for 2-4 weeks with flexible beginning and ending dates year-round depending on the park’s and the artist’s needs. In 2017, three artist held residencies while in previous years only one artist was selected. The Artist in Residence program is open to artists working in any medium, including “writers, sculptors, photographers, painters, musicians, and composers.” If required, housing can be provided, but may be shared with other park staff. All Artist in Residence awardees must provide one demonstration or program for the public and one work of art for the park. For more information on applying, read the park’s Artist in Residence application instructions or contact the park via phone or email.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park Artist in Residence
The Guadalupe Mountains National Park Artist in Residence in West Texas along the border of New Mexico provides a family-friendly residence in a classic Southwestern landscape. Like many desert environments, the Guadalupe Mountain area was once entirely underwater, leaving gypsum dunes and the fossil remains of the former underwater reef. The park claims four to five distinct habitats thanks to the large range in elevation. At the lowest elevation, one can walk through a shrub and cacti desert with roadrunners, jackrabbits, coyotes, and badgers. At the highest elevations, pine trees stretch out of sand-colored rock mountains, high into the clear blue sky. Though the park warns that the Salt Basin Dunes area can be dangerously hot for much of the year, the bright white 3-60-foot tall dunes made from Gypsum grains are not to be missed. Just be sure to watch out for rattlesnakes. The park also houses several preserved buildings, like the Williams Ranch that sits at the base of a 3,000-foot rock cliff. Whether looking up from the bottom of a canyon or staring out from one of the many high-up scenic viewpoints, the opportunities for changing perspectives are endless. Visual artists, writers, musicians, and composers are all welcome to apply.
One month residencies are generally available in each season for one or more artists, with either a rent-free furnished apartment or an RV site with full hookups. Wheelchair-accessible housing is also available. The Artist in Residence may bring family members for the entire residency period provided that they do not exceed the occupancy limits of the apartment. Pets can only come if artists plan to stay in their own RVs. Each Artist in Residence must donate one piece of artwork and present two public programs, including one geared towards children. The park is especially interested in interpretations that involve the fossil reef, the environmental diversity, historic cultural interconnections, and the park’s many “contrasts,” such as the gypsum dunes. For more information on applying, read the park’s Artist in Residence application instructions or contact the park’s Artist-In-Residence Program Coordinator.
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Artist in Residence
Though the landscapes of Indiana are relatively flat, the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Artist in Residence program gives artists an opportunity to live and work along towering sand dunes and wetlands on the shores of Lake Michigan. During the early 1900s, the abundance of sand-fed glass manufacturing for the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company of Kokomo. With four separate dune areas including beaches and forests of pine, oak, and long grasses, artists will have plenty to explore as they climb and descend the white sand dunes.
Artists can also explore the dune and wetland plants, including 30% of Indiana’s rare, endangered, and special concern plant species. Whether hiking barefoot to the summit of a dune or walking out to the cool lake water, this artist in residence program offers a quiet connection to a biologically diverse shoreline filled with dragonflies, butterflies, fish, amphibians, and reptiles. For those interested in the man-made impacts of the shoreline, the park offers five houses from the 1933 World’s Fair. The “House of Tomorrow” is made of steel and glass, and imagines that every family in the future will own an airplane, while the pink stucco “Florida Tropical House” celebrates the blending of indoor and outdoor environments.
Three artists will be selected for two-week residencies that run from June through September for visual artists working in any medium. A furnished house is available rent-free for the duration of the residency, though artists must provide their own food and bed linens. As part of the artist in residence award, selected artists must present one public program, exhibit, or workshop for the public, as well as donate one piece of artwork to the park’s permanent collection. During the two weeks, artists must contribute daily to an artist’s journal to add to the park’s archives of previous artists “thoughts, perceptions, and working methods.” For more information on applying, read the park’s Artist in Residence application instructions. Please note applications and application materials are only accepted via mail.
Isle Royale National Park Artist in Residence
If you have ever joked about running away to a remote island, the Isle Royale National Park Artist in Residence program on Lake Superior in Michigan might be the perfect opportunity for you. Accessible only by boat or seaplane, this residency is the definition of getting away from it all. In the pine and birch tree remote wilderness, artists can look out across the shining blue-green waters of Lake Superior and explore the shores of over 450 smaller islands with a complimentary canoe. Moose, wolf, beavers, red squirrels and otters all make their homes amongst the islands, while freshwater clams dominate the waters. The island itself contains no roads and prohibits any wheeled vehicles, protecting the unique environment of the largest freshwater lake in the world. The park’s website states they are open to all forms of art “except those that manipulate or disturb the park’s environment.” The application lists specific requirements for visual artists, writers, composers, musicians, performing artists, video, and film artists.
Each two-to-three week residency is available during the summer months only due to weather conditions. Free housing is provided through use of the Dassler Cabin, a furnished dry cabin without electricity, running water, or a modern toilet. The park will provide cooking equipment, a water filter, utensils, and necessary furniture. One guest can receive free transportation to join the Artist in Residence, but any other guests must pay for their own costs to and from the island. Artists must present one public program and donate a piece of artwork. Because of the true backcountry experience, applicants must address their ability to reside in a wilderness environment in the application. Despite the intensive living requirements, the park states they receive around 50 to 150 applications each year for three to four residency spots. For more information on applying, read the park’s Artist in Residence application instructions or contact the park through their contact form.
Saint-Gaudens, National Historic Site New Hampshire Sculptor in Residence
Located at the only National Park in New Hampshire, the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site Sculptor in Residence provides a truly unique opportunity for artists who work with sculpture. The park itself includes the studios, home, and over 150 pieces of art by the famous sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907). With brooks on two sides of the grounds and an old grist mill near the dam on Blow-Me-Down Pond, this artist in residence program provides the perfect combination of tranquility and historic inspiration. In warmer weather, it is common for visitors to bring picnics to the lawns in order to take in the background of Vermont’s Green Mountains and Mount Ascutney.
This five-month residency is intended for figurative sculptors, with a strong emphasis on working and sharing their art with the public. Artists will be expected to help park visitors understand and appreciate sculpture and the sculptural process. Other duties include providing a 45-minute interpretive tour on the sculptural process using Saint-Gaudens’ artwork twice a month, developing and teaching a series of 15-18 basic to intermediate level sculpture classes, and participating in existing Spring and Fall education programs such as meeting with visiting school groups. Housing is not included, but most tools are provided in the open studio, including clay, plaster, and wire. The next residency will run in 2019, with applications due late spring of 2018, but with a $17,000 stipend, it may be well worth the wait. For more information on applying, read the park’s Artist in Residence application instructions or contact Gregory C. Schwarz (Chief of Interpretation & Visitor Services) at (603) 675-2175 x 107 or email through their contact form.
If you plan on applying to one or more of the National Park Service Artist Residencies, make sure you are comfortable with the terms of each residency and fully understand what rights you have to any donated artwork. Consider your potential travel plans, especially in places of extreme weather, by reading through the park’s details on directions and climate. Direct any accessibility or navigation questions to the Artist in Residence contact listed on the application pages. Remember, park budgets or availability for Artist in Residence programs may change by season or year, so check often for updates on the individual park’s websites.
Being selected for a National Parks Artist in Residence program is a wonderful opportunity to turn your creative focus to a new setting, and in many cases, share your art with a public audience. National Parks are embodiments of how history, culture, nature, and people can come together to celebrate the places that take our breath away. From the moonscapes of Idaho to the dunes of Indiana, a National Park Service Artist residency might be the perfect opportunity to push outside of comfort zones and bring new artistic interpretations to a broader audience.
What artist in residence programs inspire you to connect with nature? How do you connect with nature on your own to have your own creative retreat? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Jackie Sizemore is the founder of Point of View Consulting, specializing in educational and writing coaching for college, graduate, and other high-stakes applications. As a creative and professional writer, her consulting is driven by her extensive knowledge of narrative and her deep understanding of admissions and selection committees.